Workers at Alabama auto components plant vote to join union

Friday, September 18, 2015, Vol. 39, No. 38

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Workers at an automotive components manufacturing plant in northeast Alabama voted to join a labor union Wednesday, citing issues such as wage caps and growing use of temporary workers.

Commercial Vehicle Group Inc. plant employees in Piedmont voted to join the United Auto Workers. The plant roughly 85 miles northeast of Birmingham produces seats for commercial trucks and vehicles.

Workers said in a release that they voted 89-45 to join UAW because of high health care costs in addition to pay issues and wider use of temps who don't qualify for benefits.

Alan Amos, a 50-year-old welder, said employees gradually noticed changes in the work environment after the plant, formerly known as Bostrom Seating, was bought by CVG Inc. several years ago.

"We started losing personal days, our insurance has tripled, the heat inside the plant has gotten pretty warm in the summer time, we lost some of our Christmas bonuses — they just kept taking and we got tired of it," the 10-year employee said in a phone interview.

"It's not easy to speak up for fair pay and respect on the job, but the workers at CVG have shown that by standing together, it's possible to win real change," UAW Region 8 Director Ray Curry said in a statement.

The company's Chief Human Resources Officer Laura Macias said in an emailed statement that officials don't believe union representation is in the best interest of employees, but officials respect workers' rights to vote on the issue. Macias said the company has increased hourly wages and invested more than $67,000 in improving the plant's cooling system. She acknowledged that some employee benefits were better under Bostrom Seating, but said others are better under CVG.

"We regret the conflict that the campaign created between co-workers and we are obviously disappointed in the result, but we will respect the certified outcome of the vote following the (National Labor Relations Board's) review," Macias said.

Growth of the temporary employee workforce and wage stagnation is common in manufacturing, but appears more pronounced in the South as more auto parts suppliers open plants in the region, said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project.

"One of the trends coming out of the great recession and the resurgence of hiring has been disproportionate hiring into temporary positions and we know that temporary positions pay less than comparable full-time positions with the primary employer," Owens said. "That's one of the things we've certainly seen in Alabama, particularly in the parts supply sector, which accounts for a large share of the growth."

Compensation at CVG is determined by salary ranges, "but employees at the top of each range are still eligible for general increases as those are considered each year," Macias said in an email.

UAW has had limited success in establishing a presence at automotive components supply plants and vehicle assembly facilities in the Southeast. Union officials say the union has more than 390,000 active members and there are more than 750 local unions within the UAW.